Top 10 Ways to Celebrate Italian-American Heritage Month

Italian-Heritage-Month

October is Italian-American Heritage Month in the United States– designated as such to coincide with the celebration of Columbus Day. Christopher Columbus is credited with the discovery of the New World in 1492 and was born in Genoa.

There are more than 15 million Americans who identify themselves as Italian-American, which makes our ethnic group one of the most robust nationally. When presenting about Italian-American history and culture, I always say that every one of us has at least some tie to Italy– either through bloodlines or perhaps a favorite food or piece of art. Italian life, art, culture and cuisine has touched us all in some way and the month of October pays tribute to the spirit that permeates through Italian blood.

As a proud Italian-American, I relish the thought of having an entire month dedicated to this important part of who I am… but I also know there are other Italian-Americans out there who might know they are of Italian origin, but who do not know much about their ancestral land. I also know there are many “amici d’Italia” out there who might not share our blood, but who love Italy as much as we do.

In celebration of Italian-American Heritage Month, I’d like to suggest a few ways we all can recognize the contributions Italians have made to this country’s landscape:

  1. Read a book by an Italian-American author. There are so many of us out there and we are represented in a variety of genres– there really is something for everyone. If you’re  not sure where to begin, feel free to contact me!
  2. Attend an event celebrating Italian-American heritage. If you’re in New York City, check out the Calandra Institute’s calendar of events here. If you’re in Boston, head up to the North End and visit I AM BOOKS… they have a wide variety of events, including IDEA Boston in a few weeks! (I’m a guest speaker, too!) Or if you’re in Chicago, check out the Casa Italia. If you’re not in these areas, be sure to Google search events in your hometown– I’m sure you’ll find something.
  3. Visit a museum. While there are actual museums dedicated to Italian-American heritage, like the Italian American Museums in New York and Los Angeles, try going to a museum in your hometown. With all of the contributions Italian-Americans  have made to our nation’s cultural landscape, you’ll find something  and, better yet, you’ll learn something new.
  4. Try a new flavor. I may be biased here, but Italian cuisine really is the world’s best! Why not try a new Italian restaurant you’ve never tried before and order a dish you’ve never tasted? Many Italian restaurants offer regional specialties based off of the region from where the owners hail or they offer unique twists on traditional Italian cuisine. You might discover a new favorite!
  5. Put pen to paper. Ovunque Siamo is an online literary journal dedicated to Italian-American writers. Why not write a story based off of family lore and submit? By doing so, you’re sharing your story with others and preserving it for future generations, as well as meeting more people who share your heritage. If you’re not Italian, check out some of the writing– you’ll be introduced to writers you never would have discovered otherwise!
  6. Go to church. You don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate the contributions Italians have made to church architecture. Here in Scranton, we have St. Lucy’s Church— it was constructed with Italian marble by Italian workers so that Italian immigrants to our area would have a place to worship in their own language. The history of that church is incredible and a part of Italian-American history that is often overlooked!
  7. Get on Ancestry. Are you eager to learn more about your family tree? Sign up for Ancestry.com and start discovering your heritage… take it to the next level and get Ancestry DNA. You’ll find out exactly where in Italy your family came from (mine zoomed right in to Campania!) and you’ll discover stories about your family you never knew before… maybe you might even learn you qualify for dual citizenship!
  8. Tap “like.” There are a lot of wonderful Italian-American Instagram pages– italianenclaves, raffaellasara, westcoastitalian, upstate_ny_italian, iawomenproject, and niafitalianamerican are all some of my favorites. Their pages give you a unique look at Italian-American life and, you know what they say… a picture is worth a thousand words!
  9. Ask questions. Stop by a senior citizens center or a nursing home and visit with the residents. Many senior citizens have no one to talk to and they are the keepers of our collective history! Go, talk to them and discover their lives. You’ll learn first-hand experiences about some pivotal moments in our nation’s history and make new friends. You may meet an Italian immigrant or a child of immigrants… or you might even meet someone from another ethnicity and discover that we really do have more in common than we think!
  10. Pass it on. Don’t be afraid to fly your Tricolore at home or wear an “Italia” T-shirt or (like me) wear your horn and hand necklace. Live your story proudly. Show the world you’re proud of your heritage. By showing our pride, we teach people that it is okay to embrace what makes us unique and share it with the world. Our stories create the unique patchwork that is this country– and that’s what Italian-American Heritage Month is all about!

How are you celebrating this October? Leave me a comment or shoot me an email!

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The Best Panettone Comes From Irpinia

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Photo from Il Giornale del Cibo

I have a confession to make… I cannot get enough of Panettone (the name loosely translates to “large bread”). We Americans have seen the brightly colored boxes with the string pop up all over during the holiday season. This year, I even discovered an incredible one imported to the US from the Milan region that had candied pumpkin, pumpkin cream and all sorts of delightful fall flavors. I tried it, loved it, and went back to Sam’s Club to buy three more. I love Panettone.

But even more than I love Panettone, I love Irpinia, so imagine my surprise when I saw an article from La Nostra Voce that claimed that the best traditional Panettone in all of Italy was deemed that created by Raffaele Romano of Pasticceria Fratelli Romano in Solofra, Avellino Province.

Oh, yes. This is a culinary dream come true. Just so you know, Milan is considered the “home” of traditional Panettone, so this was quite the coup for Signore Romano!

The competition was part of the Sweety of Milano Festival, part of which included Panettone Day. Signore Romano was one of 25 finalists in the competition and left victorious. Signore Romano’s Panettone was judged based off of how it looks, its color, quality of baking, how much it rose while baking, the quality of ingredients used, and… of course… taste.

Signore Romano was quoted by La Nostra Voce as saying, “I am very proud of this result. To take on an icon of Italian pastry such as the panettone is a great challenge for those of us in the baking profession. To see my creation reign supreme over more than 200 recipes in such a prestigious competition gives me enthusiasm to keep growing my skills and to take on new challenges.” (Translation by me)

Now for the month of October, Signore Romano and the other finalists will get to exhibit their creations in My Temporary Shop, a modern concept store in Corso Garibaldi in downtown Milano, similar to an American “pop up” store, where people will have the opportunity to buy and taste the best Italian pastry creations.

For those of us who can’t fly over to Milan for Panettone, check out the Panettone Project by Weekend Bakery… and buon appetito!

Celebrating Greco di Tufo

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From Corriere dell’Irpinia

One of the most popular wine festivals in all of Italy will take place on September 14, 15 and 16– the Tufo Greco Festival in the town of Tufo in Avellino Province. This festival celebrates Greco di Tufo wine in all of its glory– a white wine made from the “greco” grape that has been certified DOCG (denominazione di origine controllata), which is the highest level of quality assurance for Italian wines as they have been analyzed and tasted by government–licensed personnel before being bottled. If the government gives that designation, then you know the wine you are drinking is the best you can get!

This festival, seen above in an article from the Corriere dell’Irpinia, celebrates Greco di Tufo wine as well as the culture, sights and sounds of Irpinia.  The event itself will include concerts by Molotov d’Irpinia, a local musical group with a gigantic following, as well as other local and regional musical acts.

The festival will also feature “wine trekking”– which is a tour of the various vineyards in the region, complete with tastings and food samplings. There will also be demonstrations of the Tarantella of Montemarano (stay tuned for a future post!) and street musicians singing traditional songs.

Thousands of people descend upon Tufo for this festival, which has 854 residents as of 2017. Want more information? Visit http://tufogrecofestival.it/ and be sure to raise a toast in celebration of one of Irpinia’s greatest treasures!

 

 

 

The Art of Tombolo

TOMBOLO
Original photo from Rosmarinonews.it

One of the most striking traditional art forms I saw while in Irpinia was that of “tombolo,” a form of lace making that requires special needles, a skilled eye and a lot of patience.

In the town of Santa Paolina, nicknamed “the town of tombolo,” the old tradition is alive and well– in fact, there’s even a type of school where the town’s elderly women teach the skill to anyone who would like to learn, ensuring that the centuries-old art form lives on.

Tombolo was born in Campania during the Middle Ages as a way to embellish a priest’s vestments for celebrating Mass, but it quickly spread to nobility wishing to show off their status. In Irpinia and in the area surrounding Salerno, tombolo work developed into an extremely detailed and delicate art form– variations of which were even brought to the United States by immigrants from the region, including by my great-grandmother! The name comes from the instrument used to create the delicate pieces of lace– here’s one as it is being created with the tombolo instruments from the website, Irpinia Focus:

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Are you interested in learning more? I strongly suggest you reach out to Giuseppe Silvestri at Unpli Irpinia— his association is dedicated to preserving the artisan traditions of Irpinia (as well as other history and culture) and he will be happy to introduce you to a tombolo class next time you’re in Italy!

Until next time… a presto!

The Journey Begins

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My grandfather came from Guardia dei Lombardi, Avellino Province, Italy, in 1927 when he was just 11 years old. While he always wanted to return home, he never made it.

This blog is my attempt at celebrating his beloved Irpinia, the section of Avellino Province where his hometown is located. As an Italian-American historian, I’ve discovered that not a lot of people know much about the current traditions and life in the regions from where their ancestors came. Since I speak the language, love the culture and am a writer by trade and by passion, I figured it would be a great idea for me to start telling people about all of the amazing history and traditions found in Irpinia, mixed in with some old family tales from my ancestors’ lives in Guardia and in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where we all live.

I hope you enjoy this blog as much as I will enjoy writing it.